Mar 12, 2018
Action Comics #311: When Supergirl almost banged her horse
After a long absence, it’s time for another installment of Bizarre Silver Age Comics, the review series where I attempt to run down the most insane comic book stories published between the years of 1956 and 1970-ish. And maybe one day, I’ll cover a story that doesn’t involve Superman at all, but when it comes to crazy comic book plots, nothing comes close to touching the glorious insanity of the Silver Age Superman family.
One member of that family has gotten a bit of press lately, with news of a Supergirl TV series currently being developed for CBS, the last remaining broadcast network without a superhero show. This inspired me to take a look back at Supergirl’s 1950s/1960s run in the pages of Action Comics, where she was mainly just a backup feature to the exploits of her more famous cousin.
While I’ve previously only discussed bizarre individual issues, this current entry is more of a bizarre storyline. It involves the crime-fighting partnership between Supergirl and Comet the Super-Horse that lasted for several years, which against all laws of nature, common sense, and good taste, eventually turned romantic.
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Those of you not acquainted with the Silver Age Superman family of characters are probably feeling a bit confused and disoriented at the moment. Yes, Comet the Super-Horse was a thing that existed, alongside Krypto the Super-Dog, Streaky the Super-Cat, and Beppo the Super-Monkey. All four animals wore capes, had powers just like Superman, and occasionally, they would jaunt off to the 30th Century and team up with Proteus II (the shape-shifting blob pet of Braniac 5) to become the Legion of Super-Pets.
(Am I the only one who suspects the Legion of Super-Heroes was originally a secret contest between DC writers to see who could come up with the stupidest ideas? I mean, one of their more famous members has the amazing superpower of being able to eat anything.)
Most of the super-pets had straightforward origins. Krypto was a dog that Jor-El launched into space to test prototypes for the rocket that would send Kal-El to Earth. Streaky was Supergirl’s earthly pet cat who got exposed to an experimental form of Kryptonite and gained superpowers. Beppo was a monkey retroactively revealed to have stowed away on baby Kal-El’s rocket. As for Comet the Super-Horse… well, that’s when things start to get weird.
It all begins in the pages of Action Comics #292, cover dated September of 1962, where Supergirl as Linda Danvers goes to see a western starring a horse named Firebrand, then later dreams about a flying white horse who saves her from alien invaders. In her dream, she names the horse Comet after a “strange mark on [his] back that resembles a shooting star”. And even in this first appearance, things between Supergirl and Comet already seem a bit… odd.
I realize these are the days when all a girl was supposed to want in life was a pretty pony. But gaze upon Linda’s face and pose in this panel, and tell me this isn’t a girl who just experienced a sexual awakening.
Linda tries to go about her day, but she can’t concentrate on her schoolwork because she keeps thinking about her “dream stallion”. She has more (decidedly less erotic) dreams about Comet where he performs other daring rescues. She tries to focus on her cat instead, but all of one panel later, guess who’s dominating her thoughts again? And the artist basically has her doing the Gidget “isn’t he dreamy” pose, in case you still had any doubts about where this is headed.
Eventually, Linda’s parents take her on vacation to a dude ranch, where she spots a white horse that looks exactly like Comet, including the shooting star mark on his back. The ranch hands can’t tame this horse, but surprise, surprise, he calms down in the presence of Linda. As she rides the horse, she discovers he has superpowers. She quickly figures out it really is Comet from her dreams, and so she makes a cape for him.
But it’s not until the following issue of Action Comics that we get what the cover promises is the “Secret Origin of Supergirl’s Super-Horse!” Following an afternoon of goofing around at the dude ranch, Linda tells the horse that it’s now time to “get down to brass tacks!” And without much ado, the horse starts matter-of-factly talking right back to her, albeit through telepathy.
Comet relates his story. Centuries ago, he was Biron, a centaur living in ancient Greece. And yes, this is where his story begins, because apparently a super-horse needs a secret origin story, but a half-man, half-horse does not. Biron the Centaur was in love with a sorceress named Circe, and some comic fans think this is the same Circe who was later a Wonder Woman villain, but here she’s kind and helpful.
One day, Circe’s bitter rival Maldor attempted to poison her, but Biron, being adept with a bow and arrow as presumably all centaurs are, shot the vial of poison right out of his hand. To show her gratitude, Circe offered to grant Biron any wish, and his wish was to become a full man. So she mixed up some potions and came up with an elixir to turn him into a man. At the same time, for no apparent reason, she also came up with another potion that could turn him into a full horse. I think you can see where this is going.
I don’t know, maybe next time come up with some sort of labeling system for your magical potions? This is like going in for the flu shot and instead getting Ebola. Though later on, it’s revealed that the evil Maldor tricked Circe into giving him the wrong vial… somehow.
To make up for turning him into a horse, Circe created another potion, which in theory gave him all the powers of the gods, but in practice seems to have given him all the powers of Superman and Supergirl (including heat vision and x-ray vision). In addition, it also gave him telepathy, as well as immortality, so now he can live forever. As a horse.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind eternal life in any form, but why not just give him the potion that can turn him into a man? You know, the one she was going to give him in the first place? Or better yet, she should tweak the potion so that it turns him into a man, but leaves his johnson the same size as before the transformation. I can guarantee you roughly 99.999% of men would prefer that to immortality.
Maldor wasn’t happy about this development, so he uttered a spell that sent Biron hurtling off into space. The horse ended up on a remote asteroid where he remained stranded for thousands of years, trapped by a magical aura. But then a rocket passed by, and it’s the same rocket that carried Supergirl from doomed Argo City to Earth. As it flew past, the rocket’s “repeller rays” broke the aura and freed the horse.
He used his x-ray vision to peer into the rocket, and saw a girl inside. Becoming fascinated with her, he followed her to Earth, and while blending in with a herd of wild horses, he used his “telepathic vision” to watch his “little friend” grow up and become Supergirl. And it turns out all those dreams Linda had about Comet were really the result of Comet trying to communicate with her telepathically.
So let’s go over this again, because the unfortunate implications here are frankly breathtaking.
Comet gets taken with Supergirl when she’s basically a little girl, and decides to hang out for a while and wait for her to get older. In the meantime, he spies on her without her knowledge, and then eventually begins stalking her in her dreams. With his powers, he could have simply flown into her backyard and introduced himself, but instead, he creates a dream image of himself as her hero and protector to ensure she’ll be infatuated with him by the time they finally meet for real. If this isn’t an incredibly messed up metaphor for child grooming (with an added icky layer of pseudo-bestiality), I don’t know what is.
But keep reading, because things are about to get even more disturbing.
Comet contacted Supergirl because he sensed that aliens were planning to attack Earth, but when they show up, their fiendish plan for conquest seems to be mostly limited to knocking over the Space Needle. Comet and Supergirl easily defeat the aliens, but when they get back to the dude ranch, they find out owner “Mace Greede” (subtle) has sold Comet off to a new owner. And like any true stalker, as Comet is led away he dramatically proclaims, “No one can keep us apart!”
His new owner is an actress named “Liz Gaynor”, who Supergirl tells us is “Hollywood’s most beautiful screen goddess”, and try not to strain your brain figuring out who she’s based on. Gaynor later films a movie with Comet, and somehow Supergirl gets hired as an “adviser” on the set. This means she’s forced to watch as Comet ignores her completely and spends all his time with Liz Gaynor. Supergirl has increasingly jealous thoughts about how “pretty” Gaynor is, and how Comet must prefer spending time with her because she’s so “beautiful”.
This causes Supergirl to run tearfully to Superman, who quickly discovers that Comet got amnesia from eating water lilies (just go with it), and totally forgot his identity and how to speak telepathically. Comet runs away and ends up lost in the desert, where a couple of criminals try to use him to rob banks. This slowly jogs his memory, and it’s not long before he’s reunited with Supergirl.
After a few issues where they defeat various lackluster villains, Supergirl and Comet are called away on a mission to “Zerox”, a planet full of sorcerers, to do a favor for their new king Endor. In return, Endor grants Comet’s wish and turns him back into a human, albeit temporarily. For some reason, Comet keeps his transformation a secret from Supergirl, but a little later he briefly shows up with a bow and arrow to save her from drinking a vial of poison, in a (very lazy) callback to how he saved Circe.
And then Endor breaks the news that the spell isn’t so temporary, and “each time a comet passes through Earth’s solar system”, Comet will turn into a man. Which should be pretty much every second of every day, but I guess they had a different understanding of the whereabouts of comets back then. And if you’re wondering if the comet-based nature of this spell has anything to do with his being named “Comet”, nope; it’s presented as just a crazy coincidence.
Naturally, the same night they get back to Earth, a comet passes overhead and Comet turns into a man. He decides to “get a job to keep from being conspicuous!” Still keeping his transformation a secret from Supergirl for no reason, he calls himself “Bronco Bill” and gets a job at the rodeo, which he’s well-suited for since he now understands horses better than any other man on earth.
Supergirl shows up at the rodeo because of random reasons, and saves “Bill” from being gored by a bull. As a result of the rescue, they’re named king and queen of the rodeo, and it finally happens. Supergirl kisses her horse, full on the mouth.
Okay, yes, it’s weird, but one could easily write this off as two people getting thrown into a situation where they end up sharing a friendly kiss due to circumstances beyond their control. No harm, no foul. But there’s really no way to excuse the creepy undertones of what happens in Action Comics #311, in which this storyline reaches peak levels of insanity.
The issue came out in February of 1964, so of course Valentine’s Day is on everyone’s mind. All the men in Supergirl’s life are giving her valentines, culminating with one of her recurring love interests, Jerro the Merboy, impressing Supergirl by getting fish to spell out a message for her. Because when you go by “Jerro the Merboy”, you clearly need all the help with the ladies you can get.
Comet sees all this and grows jealous. The horse’s internal monologue reveals his true feelings for Supergirl, saying that “it would be easy to fall in love with her if I were human!”
And so, he sets his plan in motion, using his powers to blast through “the time barrier” and return to ancient Greece, the time of his origin.
We get a recap of Comet’s origin story (which, I should add, has been repeated in nearly every issue where Comet makes an appearance), but this time, they retcon in a couple of panels leading up to Biron’s origin, where we learn Circe “bested the wizard Malador [sic], at the Festival of Magic,” which is why he was out to poison her in the first place. And for winning that festival, Circe was awarded an “oracle bowl” that allows her to see the future. Hey, remember when the Trojans took on the Sooners in the Oracle Bowl? Great game.
Comet tracks down his old friend Circe, and confesses how “that lovely Supergirl won my heart! I wish to declare my love for her!” He asks Circe to change him into a man permanently, and she has just the thing: a “miraculous brew which can turn any creature into a human!”
To demonstrate, she uses her potion on a lamb, which then turns into a human baby. She says she’ll give the baby to “a childless couple who lives nearby”, and just consider this a free side order of disturbing to go along with your main dish of creepy. Essentially, we just watched someone casually create a human being as a rather unnecessary demonstration of her powers. And if that’s not disturbing enough, imagine when this poor baby grows up and someone has to break it to him that his mom is a sheep.
Circe is about to use her potion on Comet, but she looks into her oracle bowl and sees that he’ll live to regret this choice. But Comet won’t hear of it, and Circe gives him the potion, which will turn him into a human as soon as he returns to the present.
But to fill up a few more pages, Comet gets back to the present and somehow develops amnesia, leading to yet another criminal trying to use him to commit robberies. For those keeping track, this exact same plot happened 11 issues ago. This time, the criminal is a guy calling himself the “Hooded Demon” whose terrifying superpower is that he wears a doo-rag.
He uses Comet to rob a train, but the police are soon closing in, so he decides to skip town. He runs off just moments before Circe’s potion finally takes effect, changing Comet into a human. Needing to put on some pants in a hurry, he throws on the Hooded Demon’s clothes, and outside, he happens to find a white horse to ride.
The human version of Comet then stumbles upon Supergirl disguised as Linda Danvers, currently on a field trip with her classmates. These would be her high school classmates, by the way. Just to make what’s about to happen extra-uncomfortable, it appears Comet has been professing his love for a girl who’s still in high school.
A ledge crumbles beneath her and he saves her with his lasso (or rather, he saves her from having to use her superpowers in front of everyone). He introduces himself as “Bronco Bill” Starr, and in her thought balloon, she immediately remembers him from the rodeo. Except, she was Supergirl when they kissed before, so she can’t say anything. And in the very next panel, the two of them kiss again.
And now the reason for Comet keeping his frequent transformations a secret from Supergirl makes itself startlingly clear; he knows she’d never be interested in him if she knew he was her horse. There’s nothing quite like using false pretenses to get your underage friend to make out with you, is there?
Linda is soon thinking about how Bill is “so ruggedly handsome”, and we get a moment where he rescues a bear cub from quicksand. A ruggedly handsome man saving a cute animal? Clearly, that’s all it takes to get Linda’s “heart doing flip-flops!” And the next thing we know, she’s using her heat vision to carve a “LINDA + BILL” heart into a tree.
In less than ten panels, they’ve gone from meet-cute to Supergirl thinking about marrying him. Supergirl is now thinking about marrying her horse. And as far as I can tell, she’s developed these feelings for him in the space of a single afternoon.
Alas, due to his choice of wardrobe, and also his white horse, Supergirl comes to believe that Bronco Bill is really the Hooded Demon, and the white horse is really Comet with amnesia. Soon the cops are after him, and so is Supergirl. Just as Circe predicted, he comes to regret being changed into a man.
Instead of simply trying to clear up all the misunderstandings, he calls out to Circe, who’s watching via her oracle bowl. She changes him back into a horse, and that’s basically the end of it. Supergirl is reunited with Super-Horse, Bronco Bill is never spoken of again, and Supergirl luckily avoids the same fate as Catherine the Great.
Comet would show up a few more times in Action Comics, as well as in Adventure Comics along with the rest of the Legion of Super-Pets, but nothing more would ever be made of this “love” story. I can’t say for sure why writer Leo Dorfman, artist Jim Mooney, or anyone on the DC editorial staff thought this storyline was a good idea, but I’m guessing they figured that since every girl in Supergirl’s target audience wanted two things, a pretty pony and a Prince Charming, why not combine the two?
By the mid 1970s, Comet and the rest of the Super-Pets had quietly disappeared from the comics, and Crisis on Infinite Earths eventually removed them from continuity altogether. Comet later got the inevitable exxxxtreme reimagining in the ‘90s, as a character who started out as a dead jockey revived using cybernetics and horse DNA who then got fused with a bisexual stand-up comedienne and became the Earth Angel of Love and dear god forget I said anything because a girl falling in love with her horse now seems totally boring and normal.
Actually, when I said Bronco Bill would never be heard from again, I lied. A few years later in the pages of Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane, Comet turns into a human and has a brief romance with Lois Lane, which is an even more cracked-out experience than what I described above. It appears someone read these issues of Action Comics and decided the real problem was they weren’t batshit insane enough. So join me for the next installment in Bizarre Silver Age Comics, tentatively titled, “When Lois Lane almost banged a horse”.